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Modem Prophetesses: 

Women Preachers in the nineteenth-century 

Scottish Brethren 


The activities engaged in by women within nineteenth-century English 
Evangelicalism have been the subject of several studies, but the role 
women had in this period of Scottish ecclesiastical history still awaits 
similar analysis . 1 One recent writer on women within Scottish popular 
Protestantism has maintained that Protestantism “was to romanticise 
family life and in the process constrict the intellectual and spiritual 
lives of women throughout Scotland” and that “The only roles offered 
to women in the Protestant church were the traditional ones of being the 
custodians of tenderness and caring ”. 2 Although this is a questionable 
judgement on the effects of Protestantism, in the absence of detailed 
studies of the roles possessed by women in the Scottish churches, 
generalisations such as this must pass for knowledge. The subject of 
this study is the rise and eventual eclipse of women preachers among 

1 O. Anderson, “Women Preachers in Mid-Victorian Britain: Some Reflexions 
on Feminism, Popular Religion and Social Change”, The Historical Journal, 12 
(1969), 467-484; F.K. Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth Century 
England (Oxford, 1980); D M. Valenze, Prophetic Sons and Daughters: Female 
Preaching and Popular Religion in Industrial England (Princeton, 1985); F.K. 
Prochaska, “Body and Soul: Bible Nurses and the Poor in Victorian London”, 
Historical Research, 60 (1987), 126-30; S. Wright, “Quakerism and Its Implications 
for Quaker Women: the Women Itinerant Ministers of York Meeting, 1780-1840”, 
Studies in Church History, 27, edd. W.J. Sheils and D. Wood (Oxford 1990), 403- 
414; D M. Lewis, ‘“Light in Dark Places’: Women Evangelists in Early Victorian 
Britain, 1838-1857”, ibid., 415-427. For Scotland see D P. Thomson, Women in the 
Scottish Church (Perth, 1970); L.O. MacDonald, “Women in the Scottish 
Churches”, A Women's Claim of Right in Scotland , ed. Women’s Claim of Right 
Group (Edinburgh, 1991), 77-94. 

2 K. Carmichael, “Protestantism and Gender”, Sermons and Battle Hymns: 
Protestant Popular Culture in Modern Scotland , edd. G. Walker and T. Gallagher 
(Edinburgh, 1990), 213-20, 216, 222. 

tlie Open Brethren movement in Scotland dunng the nineteenth century 
It therefore offers an analysis of the roles which were open to women 
within one movement of popular Protestant Evangelicalism. In addition 
it will afford a perspective on the Scottish Open Brethren 3 while 
offering sidelights on both the nature of the Evangelicalism which 
pervaded Scotland in the second half of the mneteeth century and the 
changing conceptions of the place of women in church and society 
during the same period. 

F.K. Prochaska has argued that “As a religion of duty, which 
placed service above doctrine, evangelicalism appealed particularly to 
women ”. 4 Certainly the growth of Evangelicalism within Scotland in 
the eighteenth century 5 offered expanded opportunities for the public 
participation of women in Christian affairs . 6 The itinerant evangelists 
who spread the Evangelical message did not operate exclusively within 
the institutional church and several aristocratic women, the most 
famous of which is Lady Glenorchy, supported their work. Its nse led 
to a variety of para-church bodies such as the Sunday schools 
movement . 7 There was also increased interest m philanthropy among 
members of the upper and middle classes . 8 Philanthropy was popular 
among women of these classes as it provided an outlet for their 
benevolence while helping to avoid boredom without incurring the 
stigma which was attached to work. It was a Scot, David Naismith, 
who pioneered interdenominational home missions throughout Bntain 
in the early nineteenth century, and he argued that the contnbution of 
women should be taken senously in evangelizing the country . 9 Quite 
apart from the particular appeal Evangelicalism might have had for 

3 This paper discusses the Open Brethren only. For the history of the various 
Brethren groupings, see R. Coad, A History of the Brethren Movement (Exeter, 

4 Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy, 9. 

5 D.W. Bebbington, “Evangelicalism in Modem Scotland”, Scottish Bulletin of 
Evangelical Theology, 9 (1991), 4-12. 

6 MacDonald, “Women in the Scottish Churches”, 84. 

7 C.G. Brown, “The Sunday School Movement in Scotland, 1780-1914”, ante, 21 
(1981), 3-26. 

8 O. Checkland, Philanthropy in Victorian Scotland (Edinburgh. 1980), 84. 

9 Lewis, “Light in Dark Places”, 416. 


women, these extra-ecclesiastical activities enabled them to circumvent 
the strictures on a public role in religious life which had prevailed in 
Scotland, and from the second half of the eighteenth century onwards, 
women were involved in the new forms of religious life which 
Evangelicalism fostered. The increased participation of lay people 
generally in religious activity brought new roles for women. 

The new phase of Evangelicalism which began to emerge from the 
1830s onwards continued these trends. 10 These decades also saw the 
emergence of the Brethren movement which traces its origins to a 
group which began meeting in Dublin in the late 1 820s, spreading soon 
afterwards to south-west England and to Scotland a decade later * 11 
From the beginning, there were women who had a prominent role 
within the new movement. 12 In Scotland this included upper-class 
women such as Caroline Margaret Douglas, the Marchioness of 
Queensberry, wife of the 7th Marquis, who was active in philanthropic 
endeavours. 13 There were women among the Scottish Brethren in this 
penod who spoke publicly to other women, but they did not preach to 
mixed audiences. 14 However, John Bowes, before 1860 virtually the 
sole itinerant evangelist associated with the Brethren in Scotland, had 
been a Primitive Methodist circuit preacher in Yorkshire, and he 
advocated a preaching role for them. 15 Bowes’ encouragement would 
be important when women began preaching and in his publications he 
preserved details of their activities. The 1859 Revival marked a 
turning-point for the Brethren in Scotland for it greatly extended 
throughout the country the Evangelicalism out of which the Brethren 
grew. 16 Before 1860 the few assemblies which existed were small and 

10 D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain (London, 1989), 75-104. 

1 1 J.L. Davids, “The Theory and Practice of Lay Ministry by Women in the 
Plymouth Brethren” (unpublished integrative studies project. New College, Berkley, 
1983), 9-19. 

12 H.H. Rowdon, The Origins of the Brethren (London, 1967). 

13 Christian Brethren Archive, John Rylands University Library of Manchester 
7049, “Fry MS Book”, 152-3. 

14 [J Bowes], “Memoir of Mrs Jessie Dickie”, The Truth Promoter [hereafter TP] 
6(1860), 111-5, 121-5. 

15 [J. Bowes], “Should Women Teach and Preach?”, TP, 2 (1853), 225-7. 

J.E. Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain (London, 1949), 201-3. 


scattered and their existence tended to be emphemeral. But in the 
succeeding decades many more were planted throughout Scotland until 
by 1887 there were 184 of them with about another 100 being formed 
by the turn of the century. Assemblies were formed in communities 
which had undergone various degrees of social change, particularly in 
the industnal west of Scotland. 17 A change in the religious life of 
Scotland was being signalled and the country was being drawn into an 
Evangelicalism which was Bntish in character. 18 The emergence of the 
Brethren was an indicator of this change, and one of the clearest 
indications that the Brethren belonged to the new Evangelicalism was 
their acceptance of women preachers in the 1860s. 

Writing in 1955, Arthur Fawcett concluded in his study of Scottish 
lay preachers in the eighteenth century that “it is evident that in 
Scotland there has been, and still is, a deep-rooted prejudice against 
lay-preaching”. 19 If male lay preachers were regarded unfavourably, 
then female preachers most certainly were, and their emergence dunng 
the 1859 Revival in Ireland was regarded by many as one of its 
excesses there. In England there had been prophetesses among the 
sectaries in the seventeenth century and women preachers among the 
early Methodists, a tradition that was continued in the early nineteenth 
century within Primitive Methodism. 20 The earlier women preachers 
belonged to the tradition of ranters, working-class individuals who 
preached extemporaneously, but by the early nineteenth century women 
preachers among the Quakers were middle class and more orderly, and 
most of the women who preached in England in the revivals of the 

17 N. Dickson, “Scottish Brethren: Division and Wholeness 1838-1916”, 
Christian Brethren Review Journal, 41 (1990), 5-41, 8-16. 

18 C.G. Brown, The Social History of Religion in Scotland Since 1733 (London, 
1987), 16. 

19 A. Fawcett, “Scottish Lay Preachers in the Eighteenth Century”, ante, 12 
(1955), 97-119. 

20 W.F. Swift, “The Women Itinerant Preachers of Early Methodism”, 
Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, 28 (1952), 84-94; 29 (1953), 75-83. 
The most accessible description of a Methodist woman preacher is the portrait of 
Dinah Morris (based on Elizabeth Tomlinson) by George Eliot in Adam Bede 
(1859), chapter 2. 


1860s were from a similar social milieu 21 The history of women 
preachers in Scotland follows the same movement from the sectarian 
fringe to acceptance into more orthodox non-institutional revivalism. 
There had been female prophetesses in eighteenth-century Scotland. 
Fawcett includes Mrs Buchan among the British female messiahs who 
appeared in the eighteenth century. Elspeth Simpson (or “Luckie” 
Buchan) gamed notoriety in Irvine for her heterodox teachings, and 
after her expulsion from the town in 1784 took her followers to 
Nithsdale where she led their community as Friend-Mother. 22 Earlier in 
the century a group of prophets in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the most 
prominent of whom were several women, had claimed direct inspiration 
from the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the corruption of the institutional 
church, the imminent advent of Christ to establish his kingdom, and the 
necessity of harmony and love. Like the Buchanites, theirs was a 
religion of the disinherited. One of their number, Ann Topham, claimed 
she had levitated and gloss olalia were used. Their teachings and 
ecstatic behaviour brought them under the investigation of the 
Edinburgh authorities. 23 English sects which held missions in Scotland 
also used women preachers with varying degrees of success. The 
Quakers had used women preachers in Scotland, but the leader of one 
group of itinerant preachers, among whom were some women, reported 
from Oban in 1797 that “There is such a strong prepossession in the 
minds of the people in this country against women’s preaching it makes 
it additionally difficult to my dear companions”. 24 On the other hand, 
at least one Primitive Methodist preacher in the early nineteenth 
century successfully penetrated the indifference of Edinburgh when he 

21 Wright, “Quaker Women”, 403-5; Anderson, “Women Preachers”, 470. 

22 J. Train, The Buchanites from First to Last (Edinburgh, 1846). 

23 A.M. King et al., Warnings of the Eternal Spirit, Pronounced at Edinburgh Out 
of the Mouths of 1. Anna Maria King 2. John Moult 3. Mary Turner 4. Ann Topham. 
From March the 19th to April the 12th 1709 inclusive (Edinburgh. 1709); J. 
Cuninghame and M. Mackenzie, Warnings of the Eternal Spirit to the City of 
Glasgow, in Scotland by the Mouths of James Cuninghame and Margaret 
Mackenzie. Together with the occurring Orders, or Directions, relating to their 
Mission to the said City (London, 1711). 

24 Borthwick Institute, York, Tuke Papers Box 4, H. Tuke to W. Tuke, 8 August 
1797, quoted in Wright, “Quaker Women”, 411. 


drew large crowds by having his wife preach. 25 The prevailing view in 
Scotland, however, remained that of James Haldane, himself a lay 
preacher of note, who thought that the use of gloss olalia by women on 
Clydeside in the 1830s stood self-condemned because “God commands 
that women should keep silence in the churches, declanng it a shame 
for a woman to speak in the church”. 26 But dunng the 1860s Scotland 
produced a number of women preachers who received support from 
some Presbyterians and who were received into the Bntish revivalist 
network. The most famous of these were Jessie McFarlane and 
Margaret Graham, both from Edinburgh, and Isabella Armstrong of 

The emergence of female preaching among Scottish Brethren is 
linked with the influence the assembly in Newmains had among their 
congregations in Lanarkshire. The Newmains assembly was the first 
one in the county, being formed in 1848 by some seceders from the 
Evangelical Union church in nearby Wishaw, and its leading individual 
was John Wardrop, a temperance campaigner and provost of Wishaw 
in the early 1860s. 27 Additional assemblies were formed in Lanarkshire 
from 1862 onwards, and the Newmains congregation, because of its 
poor existence, its numerical strength, and the influence of Wardrop, 
had a dominant position among them. Isabella Armstrong first 
preached for the Newmains assembly in 1863 at the outreach they held 
in burgeoning Wishaw. 28 Miss Armstrong was Irish, converted at 
Cross Roads, County Tyrone, in 1859, and she had emigrated to 
Scotland in that same year. She had begun her preaching career in 
Ireland - according to one wnter “against her natural feelings and 
inclinations” - when the ministers and elders were too exhausted by the 

25 J. Ritson, The Romance of Primitive Methodism (London, 1910). 154-5. 

26 J. A. Haldane, The Signs of the Times Considered; with the Duty of Preparation 
for the Approaching Crises; being the substance of Five Discourses (Edinburgh. 
1832), 31. 

27 J. Bowes, The Autobiography, or the History of the Life oj John Bowes 
(Glasgow, 1872), 455-7; D.W. Beattie, Brethren: the Story of a Great Recovery 
(Kilmarnock, 1940), 201-4. 

28 Hamilton Advertiser [hereafter HA], 13 June 1863, 2. 


demands of the revival services to continue 29 It was at Wardrop’s 
house in Wishaw that Bowes, who was by then living in Dundee, met 
her in July 1863. He reported, “she preaches here to many hundreds 
weekly, with good fruits following”. 30 Due to Bowes’ encouragement 
she underwent believer’s baptism, and it is possible that she became a 
member of the Newmains assembly when she used Wishaw as her base 
during her itinerating throughout Scotland and England. The success of 
her evangelism and Bowes’ openness to women preachers ensured that 
they would be accepted at Newmains and so throughout Lanarkshire. 

Other women evangelists also addressed Brethren revival services. 
Miss Hotson of Airdrie and Miss McCallum of Glasgow both preached 
in Lanarkshire. 31 Jessie McFarlane, who was drawn into a wider 
public-speaking ministry due to the promotion of her by Gordon 
Forlong, the Scottish revivalist who later associated with the Brethren, 
also preached for the Newmains assembly in 1867. 32 It was largely 
from among the interdenominational lay preachers that the Brethren in 
Scotland emerged during this period. The most prominent female 
evangelists among them were Mary Hamilton of Stonehouse, and Mary 
Paterson of Maxwelltown. Both women had been converted in 1859, 
and they belonged to a group of Lanarkshire lay preachers who were 
attracted to Brethren practices and who formed several new assemblies 
in the west of the county. They had a close connection with the 
Brethren. Mary Hamilton associated with the Larkhall meeting 33 and 
Mary Paterson was a founder member of the one in East Kilbride. 34 

HA, 27 June 1863, 2. This article quotes a letter in support of Isabella 
Armstrong from John Hamilton, the Cross Roads Presbyterian minister. Despite 
this, Hamilton’s published account of the revival did not mention female preaching; 
see J. Hamilton, “Cross Roads, Near Omagh”, Authentic Records of Revival, Now in 
Progress in the United Kingdom, ed. W Reid (London, 1860), 277-9. 

30 TP, 6 (1863), 46. Bowes first met her in Helensburgh in 1859. 

31 TP, 10 (1867) p. 160; The Revival [hereafter R], 16 (1867), 133. 

32 HA, 2 November 1867, 2. 

33 R. Chapman, The Story of Hebron Hall Assembly, Larkhall. 1866-1928 
(Kilmarnock, 1929), 13. 

34 East Kilbride Free Church, ‘Minutes of Kirk Session’, vol. 2 (1848-83), 25 
June 1863, in the possession of Moncrieff Parish Church, East Kilbride. The East 
Kilbride assembly, founded in 1863, met originally in Chapelton, transferring to 


Possibly Isabella Armstrong’s activities in Wishaw in the early 1860s 
had been an important catalyst in starting these two women in public 
speaking. They attained prominence in 1866 when a second wave of 
revivalism swept much of Scotland and Lanarkshire in particular. 

These women were young and single when they began preaching. In 
1859 Isabella Armstrong was only 19, 35 and Mary Paterson was 24 in 
1866. Mary Hamilton at 29 in 1866, already four years past the 
average marrying age, must have seemed old in companson. There 
were similarities and differences between the English women preachers 
and the Scottish ones associated with the Brethren. Strong-mindedness 
prevailed amongst both groups. When Isabella Armstrong was in 
Dundee in 1864, Bowes, on his return to the city after an evangelistic 
tour, wanted to share the services. Miss Armstrong refused, causing a 
schism in Bowes’ Dundee congregation. 36 Olive Anderson, in her study 
of women preachers in mid-Victonan Bntain, has depicted the English 
preachers as relying on aspects of contemporary feminity and 
preserving decorum in their preaching which was mainly to respectable 
indoor audiences. 37 Although the Scottish preachers associated with the 
Brethren also attempted not to disturb contemporary ideas of womanly 
modesty, there are several differences in detail from those features 
descnbed by Anderson. Mary Hamilton and Mary Paterson came from 
the working classes. They preached frequently at open-air services 
along with male preachers, and the type of audiences that they preached 
to there and in such places as Wishaw and Larkhall was working-class 
rather than the more respectable listeners which the English preachers 
had. Geraldine Hooper, possibly the most celebrated of the English 
women evangelists, exploited the vein of sentimentality that ran through 

East Kilbride in 1864. The present East Kilbride Open Brethren assemblies 
originate from a 195 1 re-founding. 

3 - The anonymous defender of Isabella Armstrong in HA, 27 June 1863, 2, gives 
her age as 14 in 1859. It seems probable, however, that the “4” is a printer’s 
misreading of a “9” in the writer’s manuscript. If she were 19 when she began 
preaching in 1859, then this would agree with her age given in the Northern 
Warder, quoted in HA, 14 June 1864, 2. 

36 Bowes, Autobiography, 559. 

37 Anderson, “Women Preachers”, 471-7. 


contemporary revivalism and she frequently reduced audiences to tears, 
but such outbursts of weeping are absent from the accounts of the 
Scottish Brethren women preachers. 38 Some of the praise given to these 
women by outside observers seems to have been because they avoided 
the excesses of male revivalists (perhaps because of their ability rather 
than a more feminine approach). Nevertheless their sermons were still 
direct. Miss Armstrong’s preaching could involve strong warnings 
about future wrath; Jessie MacFarlane’s “faithfulness often offended” 
- presumably because of the pointed nature of her preaching. 39 Mary 
Paterson’s preaching in Lanarkshire produced at least one prostration, 
a phenomenon associated with the more intensely ecstatic revival 
services. While she was preaching an elderly man “rose and staggered 
out”. Charles Miller of Lesmahagow discovered him 

unable to speak or stand ... and found him to all appearances dead. 
He was carried to another house, where he remained unconscious 
for at least twenty minutes, when he came back to consciousness, 
and was helped home. He was in great distress about his soul, but 
found peace and rest next morning, and is now most happy in 
Jesus. 40 

Such distress was the product of not sentimental but fiercely emotional 

The women preachers functioned in the same way as male 
evangelists when a mission was being held. In 1866 after Thomas Holt 
and George Geddes, two itinerant Brethren evangelists who held revival 
services in a number of Lanarkshire churches, had visited Wishaw, the 
Newmains assembly had several other evangelists at their outreach in 
the town. This period of concentrated revivalism was concluded by 
visits from Mary Hamilton and Mary Paterson. Mary Hamilton visited 

38 The Latter Rain, 1 (1868), 235-6; Samuel Blow, Thirty Years ' Gospel Work and 
Revival Times (Kilmarnock, n.d; Glasgow, 1988 reprint), 86-7. There is a report of 
Margaret Graham weeping while she preached in R, 12 (1865), 268. 

39 Miss Armstrong, “The Hiding Place’ in The Latter Rain , 1 (1867), 125; G. 
Forlong , The Christian, 14 September, 1871. 

40 C.T. Miller to editor, 24 September 1868, TP, 10 (1868), 240. 


the revival services twice in October and, according to a report by John 
Wardrop, “Many of the openly ungodly date their awakening and 
conversion from some night she spoke”. She was followed by Mary 
Paterson who “spoke to large meetings seven nights successively, with 
much power and blessing, every night conversions, chiefly among the 
young” 41 When the Lesmahagow assembly held an outreach in 
Kirkmuirhill, the evangelist they sent for was Mary Hamilton. She 
preached nightly for two weeks with “The whole village moved; two 
large kitchens, one of them having a room, filled every night, 
sometimes as many as 70 crushed into one kitchen”. At the end of the 
fortnight Charles Miller of Lesmahagow reckoned that there had been 
some thirty conversions. 42 Dunng 1867 the churches in Lesmahagow 
were holding united services in the town. To coincide with this mission, 
the Brethren assembly brought the most important of the Lanarkshire 
lay preachers to Lesmahagow, among them Mary Paterson and Mary 
Hamilton. 43 Dunng the 1860s Lanarkshire was the county in which the 
Brethren made the most substantial gains, and the missions in which 
the women took part were among the most successful. Mary Hamilton 
and Mary Paterson were widely used in Brethren church planting, 
including the formation of congregations at Larkhall and Motherwell, 
later two of the most influential Scottish assemblies. Dunng this 
penod, female evangelists were an accepted part of mainstream 
Brethren activity in Scotland. 

The ability of these women was frequently underscored by those 
writing about them, one report noted that a sermon by Isabella 
Armstrong was “most eloquent and powerful” and that she possessed a 
“refined talent”; Mary Hamilton proclaimed her message with 
“apostolic freeness and simplicity”; and Mary Paterson, stated one 
commentator who was critical of some revivalists, was “a modest and 
accomplished lady”. 44 They also addressed Chnstian audiences, a more 
contentious issue than preaching to those deemed unconverted. When 

41 J. Wardrop, “Revival Work in Wishaw”, TP, 8 (1866), 62. 

42 C.T. Miller to editor, 20 December 1868, TP, 10 (1869), 264. 

43 R, 16(1867), 205. 

44 The Dundee Advertiser, 24 May 1864; HA, 28 December 1867. 2; HA, 20 July 
1867, 2. 


Jessie MacFarlane visited the recently formed assembly at Holytown in 
1867 she held teaching meetings for Christians and Isabella Armstrong 
also addressed Christians in the course of her itinerating. 43 As will 
become apparent, there were Brethren men willing to argue that this 
was permissible. It seems certain, however, that teaching by women 
was less common than evangelising by them. The achievements of the 
female evangelists were recognised as equalling those of the men and 
even exceeding them. And the intensity of their activity took the same 
physical toll that it did on male revivalists. Early in 1864 the complaint 
was made that the Wishaw outreach had had fewer converts because of 
Isabella Armstrong’s prolonged illness, and she had frequent 
subsequent bouts of illness. Jessie McFarlane suffered an early death, 
the ultimate price that the revivalist had to pay for unrelenting labours. 

Given the strong antipathy to female preaching that existed in 
Scotland, it is perhaps suprising that it ever emerged. Isabella 
Armstrong complained of the bitterness with which some opposed her, 
particularly other women. On one occasion she was given a token to 
attend a Presbyterian communion, but when it was discovered 
afterwards that she was a preacher, the elder who had issued the token 
was called to account for his actions before the kirk session. 46 It had 
been the ordinary members of the congregation who were most opposed 
to her and the popular sneer was that she was a “petticoat preacher”. 
As revival evangelists were used to abuse, it is not likely that obloquy 
such as this disturbed the women preachers much. A more senous 
hindrance was the feeling that domesticity was the feminine ideal . One 
critic of revivalism stated that “religion is much better promoted by 
females in their home spheres, in quietly and diligently perusing their 
Bibles, plying their needles and stocking wires, and instructing their 
children, than in assuming the duties of itinerary apostles abroad”. 47 
This attitude was shared by many of the supporters of revivalism. 
James Gall, the minister who founded Carruber’s Close Mission in 
Edinburgh, was felt to express “the opinions which characterize all the 

HA, 23 November 1867, 2 \R, 8 (1866), 103. 

IT. Armstrong, Plea for Modern Prophetesses (Glasgow, 1866), 3. 
HA, 23 February 1867, 2. 





best people of Scotland” when he wrote that “the proper occupation of 
a Christian female is exclusively of a pnvate character” and that she 
should not “lose that shamefacedness which is the most becoming 
ornament of any woman”. 48 The issue threatened to split the Bntish 
revivalist network. One itinerant evangelist found among those 
sympathetic to revivalism in Scotland a strong feeling against women 
preaching. He was sent to the English publisher Richard Morgan with a 
request to stop pnnting reports of women preaching in his influential 
magazine, The Revival , as it might necessitate the formation of a 
separate Scottish paper. 49 

Concepts of the role of women in society were in flux in mid- 
Victorian Scotland. Women began preaching in the same decade that 
support for woman’s suffrage also appeared but there was no direct 
linkage of the two issues when they emerged in the 1860s. Although 
two Quaker families and Duncan McLaren (a leading Presbytenan 
dissenter and member of Parliament) and his family were amongst the 
earliest supporters of women’s suffrage, the movement was largely 
middle class and did not greatly concern itself with women’s role in the 
churches. 50 The Brethren women preachers for their part did not reflect 
feminist concerns nor did they engage in politics. The brand of popular 
piety they belonged to largely avoided such issues. Isabella Armstrong, 
however, showed the most obvious affinities with Amencan 
Evangelicalism in her developing social concerns. 51 In the pamphlet she 
wrote in defence of female preaching in 1 866, she maintained that the 
sexes equally shared the image of God, which she appeared to locate 
largely in the human mind, and, although her own early schooling had 
been limited, she argued for a woman’s right to develop herself through 
education. 52 The agent of the emancipation and elevation of women to 
their proper place in human society was the Gospel, through which, she 

48 R, 10 (1864), 412. 

49 R, 13 (1865), 129-30. 

50 L. Leneman, A Guid Cause: the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland 
(Aberdeen, 1991), 8, 163. 

51 B. Aspinwall, Portable Utopia: Glasgow and the United States 1820-1920 
(Aberdeen, 1984), 127. 

52 Armstrong, Plea, 7-14. 


claimed, “man loses his fierceness and women her chains”. 53 Miss 
Armstrong’s stress on order, reason and liberation were Enlightenment 
emphases that had percolated into popular Evangelicalism. 54 This 
concern for the emancipation of women was expanded by her. By the 
early 1870s she was lecturing for the Independent Order of Templars 
and advocating female suffrage to give women control of their own 
destiny as they were among the principal victims of intemperance. 55 
However, she agreed with her critics that the normal sphere for women 
was in the home, and she took care to dress simply and not in the style 
adopted by contemporary feminists. 56 Her later political stance had its 
roots within Evangelicalism, and, like her earlier preaching, it did not 
have its origins in feminism or the movement for women’s suffrage. 
Nevertheless, although the emergence of female preaching in Scotland 
and concern for women’s political rights were not directly related in the 
1860s, both were indicators of the search for new roles for women. 

There were several other factors behind the emergence of women 
preachers. The social and religious contexts out of which the 
Lanarkshire preachers emerged was important. Mary Hamilton was 
familiarly known as ‘Mary H.’ (possibly to distinguish her from Mary 
Paterson who would, of course, have been ‘Mary P.’). 57 Her identity 
was secure within her local community for such by-names are a sign of 
one created and accepted within a locality. Single working-class women 
were more active in employment than their middle-class counterparts. 
Although domesticity was regarded as the ideal for women, economic 
realities meant that many working-class women worked. They formed a 

53 Ibid., 14. 

54 Bebbington, Evangelicalism, 50-74, 273-4. 

55 HA, 23 December 1871, 2. 

56 Armstrong, Plea, 16. Miss Armstrong’s appearance when preaching in Dundee 
in 1864 was described in the Northern Warder: "Her dress, though studiously plain, 
had an assumption of the clerical in it. It consisted of a neat little oval-shaped black 
straw hat, bound with black velvet, a black merino dress, relieved at the throat by a 
narrow linen collar. Over this dress was a loose black paletot, with masculine-like 
sleeves, terminating in linen waistbands", quoted in HA, 4 June 1864, 2. For the 
dress of the American feminist surgeon. Dr Mary Walker, when touring Scotland, 
see HA, 11 May 1867, 2. 

57 W.H. Clare, Pioneer Preaching (London & Glasgow, n.d.), 57. 


substantial part of the work-force and this was particularly true both of 
the weaving communities from which the two Marys came and of 
single women who were not yet wholly bound by domestic duties. 58 
The economic activity of working-class women makes the emergence of 
women preachers from this class more comprehensible. Working-class 
lay preachers, too, found an acceptability because they belonged to 
their social context in a way that middle-class professional ministers 
did not. They were prominent in the 1859 Revival, which was 
nicknamed “the Laymen’s Revival”, 59 and their use was part of the less 
institutional nature of contemporary popular Evangelicalism. Scottish 
Brethren assemblies also bore features of working-class culture. They 
adopted an ecclesiology which centred around lay people and this gave 
them a predisposition to accept female preaching. Free from the 
controls of institutional religion their congregations took root among 
artisans and members of the lower-middle classes, social groups with 
longings for autonomy. In the early 1860s most Brethren meetings took 
place in cottages, workshops, hired halls and in the open air. The 
encouragement given to lay activity in familiar settings, was a more 
favourable context for women preachers, who were excluded from 
preaching in church, than the formality of church buildings and the 
patnarchy of ecclesiastical power structures. 60 

The revivalism of the mid-nineteenth century was another 
significant factor in the emergence of female preaching. Periods of 
increased religious fervour have often tended to bring greater equality 
between the sexes. The spiritual experience of men and women and the 
value of their souls are felt to be of equal worth, and consequently 
social differences recede. This is apparent in the comparative numbers 
of male and female conversion narratives from revivals which have 
been recorded. Both paradigm conversions described by Jonathan 
Edwards in his account of the 1735 New England revival are of 

58 58 E. Gordon, “Women’s Sphere”, in People and Society in Scotland. 2 
(Edinburgh, 1990), 206-16, edd. W.H. Fraser and R.J. Morris. Mary Paterson’s 
sisters Janet and Isabella were wool weavers, 1861 Census, East Kilbride, book 3, 

12 . 

59 Reminiscences of the Revival of '59 and the Sixties (Aberdeen, 1910), xiii. 

60 See Valenze, Prophetic Sons and Daughters , 24. 


women, and about 70 per cent of the narratives from the Cambuslang 
revival of 1742 are also from women. 61 The sexes achieved spiritual 
parity during the revival of 1859-60. William Nixon, a Free Church 
minister from Montrose, in his account of the revival in 1860 in the 
fishing village of Ferryden gave the cases of thirteen women against 
seven men. 62 During a revival in Banff that same year one women was 
apprehensive about her husband’s reaction when she prayed publicly 
during an ecstatic moment at a meeting in the United Presbyterian 
church. “Dinna be angry,” she told him, “for I couldna help if\ but her 
husband, who had been equally affected, told her that she should not 
try to stop herself. 63 Impulses given by the Holy Spirit were of more 
consequence than social convention. 

The prominence of women in revivals sometimes led to a reversal 
in roles with the wife leading her husband: she entered salvation first 
and then persuaded him. Commenting on the egalitarian impulse at 
revivalist Presbyterian communion seasons, Leigh Eric Schmidt has 
argued that “the conventions of deference and condescension could be 
undermined by the topsy-turvy energies of religious fervour.” The 
heavenly community became a reality and “the inequalities, bom of a 
hierachical and patnarchal social structure, were dissolved.” 64 The 
marked emphasis laid upon the necessity of a conversion, and the 

61 J. Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions (1736; Edinburgh, 1984 
reprint), 55-69; A. Fawcett, The Cambuslang Revival (London, 1971), 6-7; L.E. 
Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early 
Modem Period (Princeton, 1989), 105, 245 (n.70), 248 (n.6). For Cambuslang 
Fawcett gives the figures 35 men and 71 women; Schmidt has recounted the 
narratives and has calculated that there were at least 74 women out of 110 

62 62 W. Nixon, An Account of the late Work of God at Ferryden (London, 1860). 
The conversions of two additional women are given incidentally, but these have not 
been counted. This is not to say that the number of women converted in the 1859 
Revival outnumbered men. E. McHardie, James Turner: or How to Reach the 
Masses (London, 1889) details the conversions of 81 men and 9 boys against 36 
women and 9 girls in Turner’s revivals along the fishing communities of the north- 

63 Ibid., 65. 

Schmidt, Holy Fairs, 104-7. 



consequent loosening of ties to society, was an equalising factor in the 
experience of Brethren men and women. So too was the activism that 
was engendered by the revivals. Duncan Matheson, the north-east lay 
evangelist, advised his listeners during his last address at the annual 
conference for Scottish revivalists in Perth to “pray, labour and live for 
the lost”. 65 The vision of striving for the perishing, replete with 
premonitions of tragedy and prospects of triumph, inspired men and 
women equally, and the way in which social conventions were 
subordinated to its imperatives could become a cause of complaint 
against revivalists. The emergence of female preaching was part of a 
recurring pattern within revivals when the eternal seems more 
significant than the conventions of society and the spiritual authority of 
women translates into an larger public role. 

The link between the emergence of female preaching and that of the 
Brethren movement can seen if the arguments that were used to justify 
the practice are examined. Various reasons on pragmatic grounds were 
given. Revivalists were concerned to create a hearing for their message, 
and there was an element of sensationalism in some of the methods that 
were used. The novelty of the women preachers drew large crowds and 
this was obviously one way of justifying their use. 66 One other 
pragmatic argument was that their evangelism was effective. When the 
congregation had been formed at Newmains it held as one of its main 
articles of belief “that it was the duty of every gifted brother to teach in 
the church what he believed God had taught him” 67 - evidently this 
liberty of ministry was limited by gender. Isabella Armstrong’s highly 
successful mission in Wishaw in 1863 had begun in the Primitive 
Methodist Chapel. Wardrop was friendly with Harrison, the minister, 
and he must have been impressed with what he saw, for by June she 
was preaching at the outreach held on a Sunday by the Newmains 
assembly in the public school in Wishaw. 68 A high pnonty was given 
by the Brethren to the business of winning souls. Seeing how successful 

65 J. McPherson, Life and Labours of Duncan Matheson (London, n.d.), 263. 

66 HA, 6 October 1866, 2; Chapman, Hebron Hall, 18. 

67 Quoted in Beattie, Brethren , 203. 

68 HA, 13 June 1863, 2. 


she was must have been decisive in persuading Wardrop that the 
practice was acceptable, and by 1866 he was discussing female 
preaching in pragmatic terms. “The Lord has been using in no small 
measure”, wrote Wardrop, “our dear sisters Mary Hamilton of 
Stonehouse and Mary Paterson of Maxwelton [s/c] .... The Lord has 
very remarkably fitted these dear sisters for the work of preaching the 
unsearchable riches of Christ to the perishing.” 69 To Wardrop’s mind 
the necessary implication of their success was that they had been 
divinely gifted. The Brethren had a charismatic concept of ministry. 
They shared the suspicions found among revivalists of ministers whose 
only qualification appeared to be education, 70 and a preacher lacking in 
education could be perceived as having an advantage. 71 On such 
premises, proven ability was a persuasive argument. The success and 
ability these women had in drawing a crowd and attaining conversions 
went a long way to justifying their preaching. 

Arguments drawn from practice, however, could never be enough. 
When Isabella Armstrong preached in Wishaw dunng 1863, P.G. 
Miller, the local Free Church minister, preached a sermon in which he 
argued that scripture made no provision for women preaching but 
positively forbade it. The Brethren also took the Bible seriously and 
literally and the women preachers had to be justified on scriptural 
grounds. Miss Armstrong responded with two lengthy lectures which 
consisted largely of a survey of those women in the Bible who had a 
public-speaking ministry. 72 Brethren theology was strongly adventist 
and this had an important influence on their interpretation of scripture. 
Contemporary Evangelicalism had a heightened sense of the 
supernatural and the advent of Christ before the millennium to institute 
his personal reign on earth was keenly anticipated. 73 Evangelist Gordon 
Forlong became convinced of the rightness of women preaching 
through the interpretation he adopted of Joel 2:28-9: “And it shall come 

69 Wardrop, “Revival Work”, 62. 

70 The Witness (hereafter W), 34 (1904), 93. 

71 Armstrong, Plea , 4-6. 

72 HA, 20 June 1863, 2; HA, 11 July 1863, 2. 

D.W. Bebbington, “The Advent Hope in British Evangelicalism since 1800”, 
I he Scottish Journal of Religious Studies, 9 (1988), 103-1 14. 


to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your 
sons and your daughters shall prophesy”. The Apostle Peter on the Day 
of Pentecost assigned the fulfilment of this prophecy to “the last days”. 
To Forlong the appearance of women preachers was an indication that 
he was living in the end times and that the second advent was imminent. 
In 1863 he published a pamphlet in Edinburgh advocating female 
preaching that caused some controversy. 74 Wardrop, too, was 
persuaded of the eschatological significance of women preachers. 
Quoting the relevant text from Joel when writing of the evangelistic 
effectiveness of the women, he commented that, “Truly in these last 
days he has been making good his word spoken of old”. 75 The 
prevailing premillenmal expectation found among the Brethren made 
them almost alone in Scotland in espousing this justification for women 
preaching. 76 

The passage in Joel that was cited by the Apostle Peter referred to 
women prophesying, and the existence of prophetesses was seen to be 
the exegetical key to understanding the biblical teaching on women 
preaching Isabella Armstrong entitled her pamphlet on female 
preaching Plea for Modern Prophetesses. Encouraged to write it by 
some friends, this tract, published by George Gallie, the Glasgow 
publisher and religious bookseller, was written in 1866, when interest 
in female preaching was at its the height. Written in serviceable 
Victorian English, with a carefully constructed argument which 
allowed the use of a heavy irony in places, and relying on a variety of 
popular and accessible scholarly works for exegetical points, it was an 
attempt to provide a reasoned case from the Bible to support women 
preaching. Miss Armstrong adduced the eschatological argument to 
support her case, 77 and she also attempted to harmonize scripture, 
arguing that Paul had been mistranslated. She interpreted the negative 
Pauline references to women participating publicly by arguing that 
prohibition of a woman teaching is in fact a stricture against women 
domineering men and robbing husbands of their proper capacity for 

74 Anderson, “Women Preachers”, 470, 480. 

75 Wardrop, “Revival Work”, 62. 

76 Anderson, “Women Preachers”, 479. 

77 Armstrong, Plea, 52. 


ruling, and that the command for women to keep silent in church is 
directed against ‘chatter’ or ‘prattle ’. 78 But the main focus of her 
argument is on the existence of Old Testament prophetesses and their 
continuance in the early church. Biblical prophecy, she contended, 
included teaching as well as foretelling the future, and the prophetess 
Anna she saw as being a particularly significant example, arguing that 
Anna was preaching to the crowd when she was presented with the 
Christ child 79 

This was also a key point for James Stone, a tenant farmer and 
another founder-member of the East Kilbnde assembly, in a lengthy 
letter he wrote defending the practice of women preaching. The 
unmistakeable verbal parallels to Miss Armstrong’s pamphlet indicate 
that it was the primary source for Stone’s arguments. But Stone is 
prepared to go further in his case. Although Isabella Armstrong 
addressed Chnstians in the course of her itinerating, in her pamphlet 
she specifically ruled out the possiblity of women pastoring a church 
and she argued only for a woman’s nght to preach the gospel to 
unbelievers. Stone, however, maintained that women could teach 
Christians, for Anna addressed the believing remnant and therefore 
“she also taught the saints ”. 80 Stone’s letter is evidence that some 
Brethren individuals had accepted the biblical case for women 
evangelists and were prepared to enlarge the roles available to them. 

Stone also used an additional argument for women preaching. The 
Brethren movement shared in the contemporary passion for building 
new communities . 81 Rejecting the institutional church and its 
traditional formularies, innovation was encouraged and and an attempt 
was made to recover the life of the pnmitive Christian church. The 
descent of Christ was hourly expected, and for those touched by the 

78 Ibid., 17-27. 

79 Ibid., 46-52. 

80 J. Stone to Brfother], Martin, 22 December 1874, transcript in J. Anderson, “A 
Brief History of the Assembly in Lesmahagow” (unpublished MS, I960), 94-103, in 
the possession of Hope Hall, Lesmahagow. 

81 B. Aspinwall, “A Fertile Field: Scotland in the Days of the Early Missions”, 
Mormons in Early Victorian Britain (Salt Lake City, Utah, 1989), edd. R.L. Jensen 
and M R. Thorp, 104-1 17; idem. Portable Utopia, 16-17. 


revivals, daily life was transformed. Due to John Bowes’ influence, 
perfectionism was adopted by individuals in Lanarkshire, such as 
Stone, and it was perceived as the issue which had led to the East 
Kilbnde assembly members separating from their former churches . 82 It 
was against this background that in the conclusion to his letter in which 
he argued for women preachers Stone found support in the nature of 
the church as he understood it. The new birth takes precedence over 
earthly and physical states and in the church the bom-again have 
already embarked on the heavenly life: 

As in heaven there is neither marrying, or giving in marriage so let 
us, who worship God in the spint consider that here as well, we 
are all one having been Baptised into one body by one Spirit and 
may all prophesy, one by one that all may learn and that all may be 

For there is neither Jew nor Greek there is neither bond nor 
free there is neither male nor female for ye are all one in Christ 
Jesus . 83 

The acceptance of women preachers demonstrated the dissolving of 
society’s mores and the creation of a community of equality. 

Not only by accepting the novel practice of female preaching did 
the Brethren demonstrate that they belonged to the new forces which 
were shaping Scottish Christianity, but they demonstrated it in the 
arguments they deployed to justify the practice. Their reasomng was 
that of a movement which, amid adventist expectation, existed for the 
conversion of their fellows, and which was non-institutional, provided 
freedom for lay people, and attempted to achieve a united Christian 
community based on the experience of the new birth and on the Bible. 
All these features the Brethren in Scotland had continued from the 

82 J. Stone to editor 23 April 1863, TP, 9 (1863), 24; East Kilbnde F.C., Minutes 
of Kirk Session, 25 June 1863. 

83 Stone to Martin, 103; the second paragraph quoted above is a quotation of 
Galatians 3:28. 


Evangelicalism out of which they had emerged, 84 and it is these 
features which help to explain why women preachers appeared among 

The women evangelists in the Brethren were active mainly in 
Lanarkshire (including Glasgow), reaching their zenith dunng 1866-7. 
Not all Brethren individuals accepted them, but they were to be found 
associated with Brethren activity eleswhere. The ‘Miss P.’ who 
preached at a Brethren outreach in Prestwick, Ayrshire, was probably 
Mary Paterson. 85 The first assemblies in north-east Scotland emerged 
in a context that was favourable to a public role for women. William 
McLean, a Scotch Baptist who had been involved in James Turner’s 
revivals, put an advert in the local newspaper in 1868 announcing that 
‘the Church of Christ’ would meet in his house in Peterhead. Among 
those who responded was an English visitor who was a Mildmay 
deaconess, the order of female helpers established by William 
Pennefather, an Anglican vicar. “This lady”, according to one Brethren 
historian, “afterwards gave Mr. McLean many helpful suggestions 
from the Scriptures and the assembly was launched”. 86 The growth of 
Brethren in the north-east was mainly due to one individual, Donald 
Ross, secretary of the interdenominational North-East Coast Mission. 
Isabella Armstrong had preached in Aberdeen in 1867 and some of the 
converts of her mission met with Ross in his chapel in Aberdeen. 87 
Ross, joined by his group of helpers, did not become Brethren until 
1871, and undoubtedly some of Miss Armstrong’s converts helped to 
form the nucleus of the Aberdeen assembly. About twenty meetings 
came into existence in the north-east over the next three years and 
women preachers were accepted in some of them. They found their 
strongest support at Rhynie in Strathbogie, where there had been some 
discontent at the Disruption over the nghts of women in the Free 

84 J. Kent, Holding the Fort: Studies in Victorian Revivalism (London, 1978) 
101 . 

85 M. K[err]., Memoir of John Justice (Ayr, 1875), 78. Her brother, Robert, was 
active in Brethren church planting in Ayrshire. 

86 Beattie, Brethren, 274-6. Beattie’s informant was the son of a founder 

87 R, 16(1867), 330. 


Church, and here women performed all the public roles of the 
assembly. However, women did not preach as widely or as frequently 
as they had been in Lanarkshire, and the practice was not accepted in 
all of the new Aberdeenshire assemblies. 

Mary Paterson continued preaching after her marnage in 1873, as 
did Jessie McFarlane. 88 By the early 1870s, however, preaching by 
women was being questioned even among those who had supported it. 
Robert Chapman, the historian of Larkhall assembly, writing of this 
penod gives the impression that the questioning was a gradual process 
accompanied by no great struggle. “Women’s ministry”, he notes 
simply, “became less appreciated, and was not so much encouraged”. 89 
On the other hand, James Anderson, a doctor from Rhynie who became 
a missionary in China, told of some resistance in Aberdeenshire to the 
practice being abandoned in the early 1880s. According to Anderson 
the issue “caused a good deal of disturbance in Aberdeenshire”. 
Despite the pressing requests of several prominent individuals in the 
Brethren in both Scotland and England, the Rhynie assembly decided 
that it would not prohibit the public participation of women. 90 The 
result was that it was ostracised by other Brethren assemblies, and 
Anderson claimed that, although it was never published, a pamphlet 
was written arguing against Rhynie’ s practice. 91 It is not only the 
evidence from Aberdeenshire which suggests that the suppresion of 
women preachers might have been less free from controversy than 
Chapman implied. Stone’s letter was wntten in 1874, evidently to 
defend a practice that was already bemg called into doubt. The 
Witness , which was published in Glasgow, was the most important of 
the Brethren journals. As late as 1889 when it invited opinions on 
whether women might participate publicly, two of the three replies 
received were in the affirmative. 92 Women preachers had received 







HA, 16 May 1925, 8; Anderson, “Women Preachers”, 470, n.ll. 

Chapman, Hebron Hall, 24. 

J.A. Anderson, Autobiography of John A. Anderson (Aberdeen, 1948), 21-2. 

J.A. Anderson, The Authority for the Public Ministry of Women (Braemar, n.d), 

W, 19(1889), 174-5. 


strong support among the Brethren, and as might be expected the 
erosion of that support was a slow process. 

Yet it was eventually eroded, and apart from Rhyme it was 
apparently accomplished without divisions. During the penod in which 
women ceased to preach, assemblies also began to acquire their own 
halls. Chapman’s remark about the disappearence of public 
participation by women occurs in the course of his descnption of the 
first hall the Larkhall meeting had for its exclusive use. The Newmains 
assembly transferred to Wishaw in 1869 where it had built a larger 
hall, and although both Mary Paterson and Isabella Armstrong 
preached there, female preaching was soon discontinued. Perhaps like 
the Methodists earlier, it was found that the more formal setting was 
less favourable for unconventional activities. 93 Brethren growth had 
been unorchestrated; assemblies such as the one at Lesmahagow had 
emerged independently of contact with the movement elsewhere. A 
more self-conscious identity was being formed and there was a move 
towards uniformity of practice. The pre-sectarian phase of the Brethren 
in the 1860s had disappeared and the movement as a whole 
corresponded more exactly to the ideal type of the sect. As the Brethren 
became more conscious of a separate existence, they withdrew from 
association with the interdenominational revivalist network. 

At the same time a more private religion was laying hold of them, 
and involvement in social causes now met with disapproval. As a 
result, women such as Isabella Armstrong and Mary Paterson, who 
were active in the temperance movement, passed out of the Brethren 
orbit. The excitements of the revival years and their unusual 
phenomena disappeared. The emerging tradition was less eclectic and 
more selective. Perfectionism in Lanarkshire and belief in the higher 
Christian life, the later nineteenth-century stage of holiness teaching 
which had permeated the Aberdeenshire movement, were rejected. The 
Brethren were undergoing the sociological process of 
institutionalisation, when groups become formalised and more rigid 
structures emerge. Living, spontaneous groups become less flexible and 
questions of organisation and procedure become more important. 

93 Valenze, Prophetic Sons and Daughters , 274-5. 


Owing to the nature of the Brethren movement, the process remained in 
some respects incomplete, but it was dunng this phase that female 
preaching was eliminated as rules were codified. 

The biblical hermeneutic held by many Brethren leaders also had 
an important role in the demise of women preaching. The Brethren had 
contained a strong emphasis on purity of practice and doctrine. From 
the mid-seventies onwards this emphasis became more prominent and 
demands were made to ensure that no practices deemed to be evil - 
moral or ecclesiatical - were allowed. An important part of these 
demands was the elimination up of what were regarded as ‘looser’ 
practices, among them women preaching. By 1882 one wnter rejected 
the acceptance of practices on the pragmatic consideration that they 
were successful, maintaining that ‘the one safe path is the path of 
obedience to the Word’ . 

The real target of this writer was female preaching. He contradicted 
the interpretation of the text in Joel that had been used to support it on 
the grounds of Darbyite dipensationalism, the adventist system which 
had come to prevail in the Brethren. It located the ‘day of the Lord’, or 
‘the last days’ in the millennium and after the rapture of the church. 94 
The place of women, this wnter concluded, “in presence [sic] of men in 
a public assembly is to be ‘in silence’, ‘in subjection’ (1 
Tim. li. 1 1,12).” 95 Eventually many of the stricter individuals seceded in 
1892-3 to form the Church of God (popularly called the Needed Truth 
after its magazine title). 96 One of the seceders, Thomas McLaren of 
Glasgow, confessed that he had been embarrassed by his association in 
the Open Brethren with the public participation of women which some 
of their assemblies allowed. 97 Not all those who had demanded stricter 

94 A convenient summary of dispensationalism can be found in G.M. Marsden, 
Fundamentalism and American Culture: the Shaping of Twentieth-Century 
Evangelicalism: 1870-1925 (Oxford, 1980), 51-4. 

95 W.F.H.N., “Forbid Him Not”, The Northern Witness , 12 (1882), 1 14-16, 1 16. 

96 Dickson, “Scottish Brethren”, 23-4. 

97 T. McLaren, Jnr, Why I Left the Open Brethren (London, 1893), 16. This 
complaint was widespread amongst the Church of God seceders. However, its value 
as evidence of the continuation of women preachers into the 1890s must be regarded 
with caution, as the seceders wished to establish that the Open Brethren were 
hopelessly corrupt. 


practices seceded, however, and in the last quarter of the nineteenth 
century the Open Brethren movement in Scotland underwent, in the 
words of one writer, “a tightening process”. 98 Those making the stricter 
demands, as the 1882 article demonstated, treated the Bible as a book 
of canon law. They enforced the New Testament strictures on a public 
role for women, which, it was felt, were plain, while interpretations 
based on other texts were at best debatable. 

The role of women had to be redefined, and most Brethren writers 
advocated the contemporary notion that a woman’s sphere was the 
home. A poem entitled ‘Women’s Mission’, which appeared in The 
Witness, described their function in conventional Victorian terms: 
caring for children and the ill, demonstrating the virtues of love and 

To be of home the star of love, 

And shed bright beams around; 

To guide the house with wisdom, 

Her lips with love to sound. 

To be man’s faithful counsellor, 

In doubt or danger near. 

And draw Heaven’s blessings on his head, 

By constant, fervent prayer. 99 

Women had been relegated to an ancillary role. 

The real situation, however, was more complex than that 
represented by the poem. The views of one indivdual, John R. 
Caldwell, were particularly significant. Caldwell, through his 
editorship of The Witness, was able to establish his influence 
throughout the United Kingdom. A wealthy Glasgow silk- 
manufacturer, he had been converted in 1860 and while there is no 
evidence to suggest that he had supported women preaching, he had 
certainly not resisted the practice during the 1860s. He had, moreover, 
expenence of women having an active role. Caldwell was first drawn 


W. Shaw, The Believer's Treasury, 10 (1895), 19 

99 W, 19 (1889), 166. 


into public preaching through an elderly woman in Glasgow who was 
indefatigable in organising kitchen meetings to which she would bnng 
Caldwell as preacher. 100 His wife Margaret used to deal with enquirers 
after gospel missions, kneeling and praying with them while Caldwell 
and other men were similarly engaged. 101 In 1895 he wrote a senes of 
articles for The Witness entitled “The Ministry of Women”, later issued 
as a book of the same title. 102 He maintained that the demands for a 
public role for women and those for social and political equality had a 
common origin, a damning link in Brethren eyes. 

The articles were mainly an exegesis of the relevant biblical 
passages in which Caldwell attempted to demonstrate that the texts 
could not sustain the interpretations put on them by the supporters of 
women preaching. On the contrary, he averred, the public participation 
of women was expressly forbidden. Yet at the outset of his articles he 
maintained that the question is “not to gift, or ability, or responsibilty, 
but simply and only as to the sphere in which gifts and abilities she 
undoubtedly possesses are to be exercised.” 103 And he closed the series 
with a plea for women workers in tending to the sick, visiting, teaching 
children and other women, and as missionaries. Caldwell’s writings on 
the Lord’s Supper, however, allow us to deconstruct these views of 
women’s status. The Lord’s Supper was generally regarded as the most 
significant assembly gathering and it was important that anything done 
at it was done with proper decorum. In principle, as the Brethren had 
no consecrated ministry, any individual could dispense the elements, 
but Caldwell felt “it would not be fitting that a woman should do it, or 
a very young believer.” 104 

The parallel is telling. In some respects a women had the same 
status as an immature Christian. Caldwell had been swayed for a time 
by the narrower views dunng the 1880s, and his eventual position 
represents the equilibrium that Scottish Open Brethren had achieved. 
The activism of Brethren piety and the urgent imperative given to 

100 W, 25 (1895), 187. 

101 If, 59(1929), 290. 

102 W, 25 (1895), 141-3; 158-60; 165-7; 185-7. 

103 Ibid., 141. 

104 If, 39(1909), 77. 


evangelism did not allow women to be totally confined to their homes. 
Their abilities were recognised and they were given the role of 
Chnstian workers, albeit within certain limits, in the larger world. 
Their status, however, could fluctuate between one that accorded with 
this active role and one which regarded them as being not entirely 
responsible members of the assembly, ones that certainly lacked 

Women preachers as a working-class phenomenon did not 
completely disappear within Scotland. Excluded from the Brethren, 
they continued to be used in the mission halls, centres for the 
evangelistic activities of their largely working-class members, and in 
the Faith Mission, founded in 1886 to evangelise rural Scotland 105 The 
acceptability of women preachers became a dividing line between the 
Brethren and mission halls. Several missions became assemblies, and 
when they were making the transition, as happened at Lochore, west 
Fife, in 1911, they forbade women to participate publicly. 106 One later 
Brethren woman preacher, a member of Overtown assembly, who 
addressed mixed audiences, did her preaching in the Lanarkshire 
Christian Union, the local confederation of mission halls. 107 And within 
the Brethren, some women continued to achieve a more public role in 
some places. The assembly in Rhyme continued to allow women 
preachers until the congregation was discontinued around the turn of 
the century. Mrs Lundin Brown, one of the Aberdeenshire preachers, 
until her death in 1924 could not be restrained from publicly 
participating in the very traditionalist assemblies of the north-east. 108 

Until the 1920s women participated at prayer meetings in 
Strathaven and Bible women were used in Glasgow and Dumfries. 109 

105 A. Gammie, Pastor D.J. Findlay (London, 1949); History of the Lanarkshire 
Christian Union, ed. N.W. Bryson (Strathaven, 1937); Faith Triumphant: A Review 
of the Work of the Faith Mission 1886-1936, ed. J.B. McLean (Edinburgh, 1936). 

106 Oral information, November 1988; see N. Dickson, “Brethren and Baptists in 
Scotland”, The Baptist Quarterly, 33 (1990), 372-387, 375. 

107 Oral information, February 1991. 

108 F.F. Bruce, “Women in the Church: a Biblical Survey”, Christian Brethren 
Review Journal, 33 (1982), 7-14, 14. 

109 Oral information, July 1990; July 1989; March 1988. 


But with these exceptions, which all belong to the earlier part of the 
twentieth century, women were confined to the roles set out by J. R 
Caldwell. Only Dr John Anderson, after he retired to Aberdeen from 
his missionary work in 1921, continued to advocate a preaching role 
for women, but he was perceived as being a lonely and eccentric 
voice. 110 With some justice it might be felt that the pnesthood of all 
believers was understood as refernng to male believers only. In the 
north-east fishing communities, when the men were at sea the women 
did not hold the Lord’s Supper * * 111 The virtues pnzed m Brethren 
women were quietness and meekness. However, their status and role 
tended to vary, both being more constricted in the more traditionalist 
assemblies. And the spiritual authority of women continued to be 
recognised, for in their obituanes some women received the encomium, 
given to the warnor-prophetess Deborah, “mother in Israel”. Their 
identity blended domesticity and activism. 112 

The Evangelicalism out of which the Scottish Brethren movement 
arose was a crucial factor in the emergence of women preachers. This 
popular Evangelicalism established itself amongst the working and 
lower-middle classes and it was widely diffused throughout late 
nineteenth-century Scotland. Revivalist in temper, it encouraged lay 
activity, active evangelism, a less institutional Christianity and a unity 
based on the Bible. The women evangelists displayed the 
characteristics of their social and religous context. The Brethren 
inheritance from contemporary Evangelicalism, however, proved to be 
an ambivalent legacy. Disaffection with the institutional church led to a 
desire to purge the movement of anything that was not felt to reflect 
purest apostolic practice. The appeal to scripture which had sought to 
justify women preachers eventually led to their prohibition. From the 
later nineteenth century onwards women within the movement had an 
ambivalent role which can be seen in the obituaries that Mary Hamilton 
and Mary Paterson received in Brethren publications. Mary Hamilton 

110 J.A. Anderson, Woman’s Warfare and Ministry: What Saith the Scriptures 7 
(Rhynie, n.d ); idem , Public Ministry ; F.F. Bruce, In Retrospect: Remembrance of 

Things Past (London & Glasgow, 1980), 53-4. 

111 W, 54 (1924), 223. 

1 1 2 See Valenze, Prophetic Sons and Daughters , 35-6. 


never married. In poor health, she had had a leg amputated and was 
house-bound for the last eleven years of her life. When she died in 1 925 
her obituary simply noted “led many to Christ” 113 Mary Paterson had 
died a few months earlier that same year. After the death of her 
husband, James Gilchrist, she had marned Dr Friedrich Fischer, a 
Swiss Moravian missionary in Calabar, West Africa, 114 where she too 
served for a while. On her return to live in Larkhall about 1905, she 
had continued active in temperance work and in taking evangelistic 
missions. Her obituary stated that she was “much used in leading 
sinners to the Saviour when such workers were few”. 115 Their 
preaching was not mentioned, yet, perhaps remarkably in that neither 
of them was by this time a Brethren member, they were honoured for 
their evangelistic abilities. Women could be active in Christian work, 
but within prescribed limits. 

However, the existence of women preachers within the Brethren 
was not forgotten. F.F. Bruce, who held the John Rylands chair in 
biblical exegesis at the University of Manchester, was the most 
prominent advocate of the public participation of women within the 
Brethren in the later twentieth century, and he invoked the memories of 
the women preachers in his native north-east Scotland. 116 Recently a 
number of Brethren assemblies in Scotland have been concerned to 
examine tradition in the light of scripture, and they are increasingly 
open to innovation. Bruce’s wntings are an important influence on a 
number of those ones which are currently rethinking the role of women. 
Once again, the changing status and role of women can also be used as 
a guide to the internal development of the Open Brethren. 117 

113 W, 56 (1926), 259; see also HA, 25 October 1925, 9. 

114 D.M. McFarlan, Calabar, a Church of Scotland Mission 1846-1946 (London, 
1946), 87. 

115 The Believer’s Magazine, 34(1925), 78; see also HA, 16 May 1925, 8. 

116 Bruce, “Women in the Church”, 13-4. 

The help of Mr John McCleish, local history librarian, East Kilbride Central 
Library, in tracing some of the material used in this paper is gratefully